Difference between Funeral and Memorial Service

January 14, 2017 by Editorial Team

When a person dies, family and friends come together to pay their final respects. In order to do so, they can either plan a funeral or a memorial service. Did you know there were differences between the two? Read on to find out what makes a funeral different from a memorial service.


Funeral vs Memorial Service
An open casket funeral with people paying their respects

A funeral is a religious ceremony that takes place before the burial of a deceased person. Each community has its own rituals and customs that mark the passing of one of its members. The body of the deceased is present at the ceremony, in the chapel of a church, in a funeral home or directly at the grave site. This location ensures the proximity of the casket to the grave site and allows professionals to embalm the body for viewing.

A priest or pastor holds the ceremony according to the religion of the deceased. During this time, relatives and friends line up to pay their last respects, pray for the deceased and mourn. When the ceremony is over, the disposition of the body takes place. This means either burial or cremation. In some instances there can be a procession. Family and friends can accompany the casket on its final journey to the grave site.

Funeral homes usually have everything needed for such occasions. They have fees for every service and they can take all the responsibility off the shoulders of the mourning relatives. The service, flowers, food, music, preparing the body, casket options, grave site lining, and casket transportation are just some of them.

memorial service
Relatives of soldiers missing in action consoling each other during a memorial service

A memorial service is a service for remembrance and a celebration of a person’s life. It takes place after the burial, cremation or when there is no body. Memorial services are for people like militaries missing in action or people who died at sea or in fires. It can take on a number of forms as service providers are open to ideas from friends and family.

The service can be held anywhere and at any time, like at a relative’s house or at a special venue. A relative or a very close friend can lead by sharing memories. This service does not have to be religious, although it can be if the family wishes. These services can also be provided by professionals.

Funeral vs Memorial Service

So what is the difference between a funeral and a memorial service?

A funeral takes place before the disposition of the body, whereas the memorial service can take place any time after. A funeral usually has religious implications as a religious figure leads those present in prayer. By comparison, a memorial service is less formal and more dedicated to consoling the family, rather than performing rituals. A relative can lead a memorial service as well.

The presence of the body makes all the difference between these two types of ceremonies. It also influences other aspects of the ceremony. Funerals must be in proximity of the cemetery or of the columbarium for cremation ceremonies. Memorial services, on the other hand, are much more flexible in terms of location.

Another point of difference between the two is in timing. Since a funeral precedes the disposition of the body, it must take place shortly after the death of the person. This restriction does not apply to the memorial service and it can be held at any time.

Also funerals can be more expensive than memorials. Reasons for this include the costs of religious ceremonies, a casket for the viewing, the grave site lining, flowers, caterers, and more. A memorial service is more intimate, more financially accessible, and more personal.

Comparison Chart

FuneralMemorial Service
A religious ceremony ceremony held before the burial or cremation of the bodyA ceremony held any time after the disposition of the body or in its absence
The body is present at the ceremony in a casketThe body is not present at the ceremony
Must take place soon after the deathCan take place any time
Can be held in a chapel or funeral home and is usually close to the grave siteCan be held anywhere
A priest performs religious rituals and leads those present in prayerEvery memorial service is unique and simply celebrates the life of the deceased
Can be more expensiveCan be more accessible